TUKWILA, Wash. – For the Seattle Sounders, it’s time to get their 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup campaign underway, as the Rave Green hit the road to take on Sacramento Republic FC of the USL in a fourth-round fixture at Papa Murphy’s Park on Wednesday.
Few MLS franchises have as storied a history in the country’s oldest soccer tournament as the Sounders, who have four USOC titles to their name since their expansion season of 2009 – tied with Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire for the most of any team in the league. It might not carry the same weight as MLS Cup or CONCACAF Champions League, but it’s a chance to compete for silverware, and one the Sounders have historically shown they’re willing to make a play for.
Still, the tournament is always a balancing act for MLS teams that are all in the midst of their league season, and the Sounders have to contend with the fact that they also have an MLS game at home against D.C. United on Saturday. USOC games, especially in the early rounds, almost always feature mix and matched lineups.
“The challenges that we’re facing here is not how much importance you place on a match,” Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer told reporters this week. “It’s how do you mix players for a Wednesday-Saturday tournament. That’s the challenging part. We want to win every game. We want to do well in both competitions. So that’ll be the trick.”
While Wednesday’s match probably won’t feature a lot of Seattle’s regular MLS starters, that also means an opportunity for younger players chomping at the bit for first-team minutes.
Midfielder Henry Wingo falls into that category. The second-year University of Washington product has shown well in his time on the field with the first team this year, but a strong showing in the Open Cup would only help him make a case that he deserves to see the field even more in MLS play.
Sounders FC midfielder Henry Wingo dribbles against the Columbus Crew | USA Today Sports Images
“The young guys, guys who haven’t been playing as much, everyone is super hungry,” Wingo said on Monday. “Everybody wants to be on the field and try and give everything and try and give the team a boost.”
For the Sounders, the hope is also that a solid run in the tournament can also act as a catalyst for what has been a difficult season in league play so far – something Schmetzer said he has seen during Seattle’s past Open Cup runs.
“We’ve had that happen,” Schmetzer said. “There’s been a lot of good moments in our Open Cup history, especially in the early years when we needed to build momentum and stuff like that. Those early trophies are something that set us on the right path to being successful.”
Wednesday’s fixture will also mark a homecoming for Sounders assistant coach Preki, who was Sacramento’s head coach in 2014-15. A prolific goal-scorer in his playing days now tasked with coaching the Sounders’ attackers, Preki said that his former employer can’t be overlooked considering the weight lower-division teams tend to put on these USOC fixtures.
“Personally for me it’s always exciting to go back there and see a lot of friends and hopefully this time around we’ll have a good result as well,” Preki said on Tuesday. “We expect to win. Obviously we’re the MLS team and we should have enough in the squad to go down there and get the result. We’ve got to have a good mentality, we know it’s going to be a difficult game, especially against the teams in a lower division because this is [basically] a final for them.”
“We have no problem putting [young players] in a game like this, but especially at the moment where we are as a team because of injuries and World Cup call-ups, it’s not always as easy as it looks,” he added. “But at the same time, it’s football, and we have enough quality to go down there and get a result.”